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Mike’s take on the Birmingham Design Festival

June 20, 2018

First of all, it’s great to see that the Midlands is finally getting a voice in the design world. Ghost have always showed a keen interest in being part of the greater creative community in Burton and beyond, and we have attended many talks and exhibitions in support of this. But now Birmingham, our second city, has taken a step up and truly become the creative hub it should be.

As with any new adventure there were many teething problems in organising over 100 talks, workshops and exhibitions over 4 days and hosting a creative Birmingham to the rest of the world. But the enthusiasm and effort put in by the Birmingham Design Festival (BDF) team easily outweighed this.

The topic on everyone’s lips was ‘how will Birmingham compare with London?’. How can it? Our experience of the Design festival opened up with the talk ‘Creativity: Birmingham vs. London’ by Sweta Pathak which we hoped would address this. What did we take away? Small cities can and do have big voices! But where are these voices going to come from? I feel more questions were raised than answered in this talk. But I guess that was the point. We now have to buckle down and figure out how our big ideas can connect and solve the big problems for our current and future clients.

By this point I was truly in the spirit of the festival! We’d walked through the cities beautiful architecture, seen buzzing students and proud designers alike, and absorbed many inspiring design projects. As we sat in the medicine cafe for a coffee and to enjoy one of the design districts exhibitions, it hit home that Birmingham and the wider midlands are amazingly located to creatively service clients across the UK and Europe.

I topped off my festival experience nipping across Birmingham catching 8 more design & user experience talks. As a father, the ‘The Hand of Change’ talk by Marksteen Adamson really resonated with me, as the discussion began to focus around mobile technology and how children grow up interacting with their friends and peers. It was quite amazing to see examples of how switching off from that technology allows us to open up our minds to other pursuits, like getting out the house with a camera or picking up that paint brush. It’s clear that Inspiration is found by getting out and exploring. Taking that leap into unexplored territories. As designers and creative partners would we be doing our clients a favour by stepping back and exploring more?

Since the festival this talk has been on my mind. As the younger generations navigate a world saturated by marketing is it right that the ‘go to’ is digital marketing? Should we be thinking more and exploring different options, engaging these young active minds in more interactive and creative ways. Just because they are digital natives doesn’t mean that they are opposed to picking up a book and experiencing a brand with all 5 senses.

As a lover of print design and typography I was (not so secretly) very excited about the ‘Evening Extravaganza of Printed Passion’ talk! A talk full of beautifully printed books, photos of desirable letterpress machines (I’m still dreaming about fitting one in my garage) and inspirational approaches to engaging print design. With 4 speakers taking to the stage this talk was always going to be the one which needed the most processing.

I think the most important thing highlighted was how we all think about ‘print design’ and ‘digital design’. As the creative industries get more segmented and digital agencies, Web design studios and UX collectives are springing up, it was refreshing to be reminded that print media, just like digital media is also a technology, albeit an ancient technology. All marketing media should be treated as just that, great mediums for communicating messages, each with strengths and weaknesses. As a designer and design studio we have a whole toolbox of media that we can pick from to craft the perfect campaign for our clients.

As I mentioned there were many teething problems in organising a city wide Design Festival. But ever the optimist, I loved every minute of it and for the past 2 weeks I’ve been talking to, debating with and annoying everyone I know with stories and ideas from the Birmingham Design Festival 2018.

But all good things come to an end. Just as quickly as it started we were running to the train station to catch the last train back home. Cheers!

Author: Mike Sweeting